MAEVE MACKINNON – Strì (Own Label, MM003)

Launched this weekend as part of Celtic Connections 2018, comes Maeve Mackinnon’s third studio album, Strì (meaning “strive”). After a couple of years of touring with Stepcrew and others, Mackinnon returns to home turf with an album of songs with a distinctly female perspective.

Inspired by Mackinnon’s love of waulking songs, this collection bears all the hallmark strong rhythms of work songs, like opener ‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’ (“Row Lightly”) with its hypnotic rowing pace. There’s also an evident relish in playing with assonance and alliteration in the language.

The lyrics (in translation) form a brutal poetry. Often these little hunks of plain-spoken, stark phrases hang together with a dark twist involving betrayal, or a loss of love or life. But it’s as repeated, sung phrases that they come alive with their own musicality.

Knowing Gaelic may help comprehension, but it’s certainly not essential to appreciating the vocal skill and dexterity in pieces like ‘Puirt-a-Beul’ (“Mouth Music”) – a “hidden” track that runs on from ‘Moch An-Diugh A Rinn Mi Eirigh’ (“Early Today I Rose”). Then there’s the not-quite-rapping, tongue-twisting ‘Bodachan a’Ghàrraidh’ (“Little Old Man In The Garden”) with its loose, funky guitar undercarriage. (And this song even fades out, like some contemporary radio playlister).

What the Scots generally do seem to have is a sound grasp of how to respect and refresh their traditions with judicious use of the studio toolbox, and Strì is no exception. So, occasional processed vocals, industrial metallic sounds, scratchy electronics and even an almost club-like rhythmic regularity on can be found here, all of which help to keep these songs feeling right up to date.

Producer/arranger Duncan Lyall successfully marshalls an array of top musicians including Jarlath Henderson, Ali Hutton, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid and Kathleen MacInnes, amongst others, whilst keeping a firm hold on the balance of instrumentation and sympathetically fleshing out Mackinnon’s warm tones.

Most of the songs here may be from the Gaelic tradition, but Mackinnon does include one of her own compositions. Following a crackly announcement in Spanish, it’s quite startling to hear English lyrics again. ‘We’re Not Staying’ is a complex tale of flight and persecution, nicely told with an emphasis on the disruption of migration and the wistful sense of temporariness.

In short, Maeve Mackinnon has made, in Strì, an album that is a real pleasure to listen to, relishing in all its rhythmic twists and turns. She has taken traditional forms and given them a contemporary edge, and the women’s stories that she sings are just as relevant as they ever have been.

Su O’Brien

Artist’s website:

‘Iomaraibh Eutrom’:

Maeve Mackinnon – new album

Maeve Mackinnon

Contemporary Gaelic Singer Maeve Mackinnon releases her third studio album in February, 2018. Strì is a collection of songs in Gaelic and English, based on the themes of work, exile and struggle, from a woman’s perspective.

Strì means to strive or struggle in Gaelic. My original idea was to revisit the songs I love, particularly Gaelic Waulking songs. Waulking songs are work songs traditionally sung by women in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. They were hardy, tough women and they sang of battles, tragedies, breakups and romance. I realised midway through recording that nearly all the songs are from a female perspective, and the messages within them are so current today on many levels”.

The album is produced by multiple award-winning producer and bassist Duncan Lyall (producer of Scots Trad Music Awards’ Album of the Year 2015 for Treacherous Orchestra’s Grind along with many others!).

Strì features guest contributions from musical luminaries such as Kathleen MacInnes, Martin O’Neill, Patsy Reid, Ali Hutton, Duncan Lyall, and Jarlath Henderson alongside longtime collaborators Ross Martin and Brian McAlpine.

“The stories, melodies and rhythms convey so much. Whether you speak Gaelic or not, I think people can hear the power of feeling in these songs”.

Strì is launched on Sunday 4 February at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall as part of  Celtic Connections 2018.

Artist’s website:

SKETCH Highland Time (Skye Records SRCDX003)

SKETCH Highland Time (Skye Records SRCDX003)I know about bagrock and whatever Saor Patrol call their blend of pipes, electric guitar, drums and more drums but techno piping is a new one. Which is very remiss of me since Highland Time is Sketch’s second album.

It should come as no surprise that the man behind Sketch is former Peatbog Faerie Iain Copeland who is responsible for the programming and production. It’s not much a band as the idea of a band. I presumed that the core, for the purposes of live performances, consists of fiddler Neil Ewart, who is also responsible for several fine tunes, Angus Binnie on pipes on whistles, Seaumas Maclennan on bouzouki and vocalist Darren Maclean with Copeland manning the electronics. I’m wrong because Charlie Stewart seems to have replaced Ewart. That seems like unfortunate timing.

Ali Levack and Ross Ainslie play as big a part on this album as the “core” and other guests include guitarist Luc McNally, the late Fraser Shaw leading his own tune ‘C Side’ and singer Maeve Mackinnon. It’s Lavack and Binnie who make the album because it really shouldn’t work. I mean: club beats and tunes grown from the tradition! And if it does work it should be boring as hell. The fact that it works and isn’t boring is down to two very fine pipers and Copeland’s fertile imagination.

Maclean’s vocals are somewhat secondary and often treated and Copeland himself handles the most extreme vocal part on ‘Taxi For Copeland’ which is actually Ewart’s tune, ‘The Road To Kilchoan’. No, I don’t know why it has two titles. When you get past all these apparent contradictions, however, Highland Time is a really good album.

Dai Jeffries

Sketch live at Cambridge Folk Festival 2013 – with Ross Ainslie:

MAEVE MACKINNON – Once Upon An Olive Branch (MM02)

It must be a difficult decision for any performer…in this case by Maeve MacKinnon…to relinquish control of their latest recording to the skills of a producer but in Angus Lyon I think she has made the right choice. In using the additional services of Innes Watson (guitar and fiddle), Signy Jacobsdottir (percussion), James Lindsay (bass), Fraser Fifield (whistle and saxophone) along with Lyons own skills on Fender Rhodes, piano and accordion he certainly brings a fresh approach to the tried and tested including an intriguing version of “Kind Friends And Companions” with its disconcerting, almost discordant use of jazz tinged backing. Probably this will either conversely be seen as too outrageous by the ‘folk police’ or a bold step into nearly uncharted territory. I must admit that although not every track sits well with me (call me prejudiced if you like but I still can’t get into Gaelic songs…just the rhythms and arrangements) but there are at least many interesting moments to sustain the interest of the listener. From a general consumer point of view (I’ve played it to my partner and she’s not sure about it) it might possibly be viewed as something of a curiosity but only time will tell if this CD is well received with its presumed ‘folk music’ audience. Finally, I’d like to say how refreshing it is to come across an artist who has given some thought in utilising their website to provide information (including translations of some of the lyrics) and notes on the songs etc that would otherwise take up too much space in a small booklet.